Dissertation Process

The Dissertation

The research question for the student’s doctoral dissertation shall derive from the student’s professional focus and have significance for social work theory, practice, policy or administration. Information on various aspects of the dissertation follows.

Useful dissertation resources are available online at: http://www.grad.illinois.edu/thesis-resources

Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

The dissertation proposal is the product of a careful and searching inquiry into a significant problem or question in the field of social work.  The proposal will be a cogently argued description of the proposed research study, its rationale, and its significance.  It includes a description of the study questions or hypotheses as well as a feasible plan for the research.  In situations where agency cooperation is required, negotiations with participating agencies should have begun.  All proposals must abide by University IRB guidelines.

Specific Guidelines on Developing Dissertation Proposals

Composition of Doctoral Committees

The Dean of the Graduate College shall appoint voting members of doctoral committees, upon recommendation of the executive officer of the student’s unit. Upon unit request, the Dean may also appoint non-voting members of doctoral committees, such as an external reader, a faculty member who is on leave off campus, or others who have made a significant contribution to the dissertation but who cannot be present at the examination.

  1. The committee shall consist of a minimum of four voting members, three of whom must be members of the graduate faculty of the UIUC and two of whom must be tenured. One voting member must come from outside the department.
  2. The chair of the committee must be a member of the graduate faculty and a tenure track faculty of the School of Social Work; this includes a member on leave or on zero-time appointment. Committee chairs are typically tenured and/or have had experience directing dissertation research in the past.  A faculty member who resigns or retires from the University is automatically terminated from membership in the graduate faculty unless the unit asks that the faculty member continue for a specific period of time. Emeriti faculty who have been awarded continuing membership on the graduate faculty may chair committees. Co-chairs and co-directors of research may be appointed.
  3. A person who is not a member of the graduate faculty, but who is especially qualified to participate in an examination, may be appointed a voting member of the committee. A brief description of qualifications should be stated on the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee. The Graduate College does not defray expenses for committee members to be present at the examination.
  4. All members of a committee need not be present in person at an examination. However, the committee chair, student, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for the entire duration of all oral components of the prelim and final examinations. If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present. If not present, committee members must participate in the examination via an appropriate electronic communication technology. Preliminary and final examination committees need not have the same membership or chair.

Dissertation Preliminary Exam Procedures

The dissertation proposal must be circulated to the preliminary committee at least 10 working days prior to the hearing and given to the office of the Dean of the School of Social Work.

The chair is responsible for scheduling the examination, notifying committee members and the student of the time and place. When a date is set for the exam, the chair completes a Graduate College Request for Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee form and submits it to the Director of the PhD program. This must be done two weeks prior to the date of the hearing. (Copies are made and distributed to the student, the student’s file, the committee chair and the Dean’s office file).  The chair reserves a room for the hearing and submits the title of the dissertation (along with day, time, and place), to the Director of the Doctoral program.

The students must be enrolled during the term in which they take their Preliminary Examination.

Criteria for Evaluation of a Dissertation Proposal

  1. A question must fall within the area of social welfare, have significance for the field, and not have been satisfactorily resolved by existing knowledge.
  2. The proposed investigation must be feasible with respect to the candidate’s qualifications to complete the investigation as well as the resources available. This includes the necessary clearances to access data, protection of human subjects, a reasonable time table and available resources to conduct the study.

Preliminary Exam/Hearing

Except for time set aside for committee deliberation, the dissertation preliminary exam is a public hearing. The hearing has two objectives: to examine the candidate’s knowledge of the supporting literature and research methodology, and to contribute to the intellectual and educational climate of the School.

Preliminary hearings begin with the student making a brief (20-25 minute) presentation of the research plan. This presentation is a summary of the proposal. Committee members then question the candidate. Upon completion of committee questioning, non-members of the committee are invited to participate/ask questions. Upon completion of the discussion as determined by the chair, the candidate and the non-committee members present are asked to leave for the committee to deliberate. The committee has the following choices:

  1. Pass: The candidate may proceed with the dissertation.
  2. Fail: The student may be granted another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional work. The chair will inform the Graduate College if the student should be given a second examination.
  3. Decision deferred: The committee has a temporary adjournment (maximum six months).

The committee must render a unanimous decision and sign the Certificate of Result. Upon completion of the deliberations the candidate is invited back into the room and told of the committee’s action. The committee chair is responsible for having a copy of the Certificate of Result of Preliminary Examination for the Doctoral Degree filed in the student’s folder, a copy filed in the Dean’s office, and the original sent to the Graduate College. The Dean of the Graduate College shall notify the student in writing of the official outcome of the examination after it has been received and recorded by the Graduate College.

Final Dissertation Defense

The policy is the same as for preliminary appointments. The composition of the final doctoral committee need not be identical to the preliminary examining committee. However, only in unusual circumstances will the composition of these committees differ. The final doctoral committee is responsible for final examination and approval of the student’s dissertation. The final doctoral committee is appointed in the same manner as the preliminary committee. The students must be enrolled during the term in which they take their Final Examination.

Final Exam/Defense

  1. The completed dissertation must be submitted to committee members at least 10 days prior to the final examination. A copy of the dissertation must be deposited with the Dean of the School of Social Work’s secretary at the same time.
  2. The dissertation must follow the APA editorial style and Graduate College guidelines (in writing the dissertation), free of typographical and spelling errors, and grammatically correct. To facilitate writing the dissertation in compliance with APA editorial style, students are encouraged to use this style in writing all scholarly papers prior to writing the dissertation. The chair of the dissertation committee has the right to refuse any copy that does not meet these requirements and hence to postpone the hearing.
  3. The student should bring the “Certificate of Committee Approval” to the exam/hearing. This is the form that can be obtained either at the PhD Program Office or on-line. The committee member names must be typed below where they sign the form. All members must sign this form before the dissertation can be deposited.
  4. 4. The defense is handled in the same manner as the preliminary hearing. Questions are normally restricted to the findings and analysis, because questions of design are handled at the proposal hearing prior to the beginning of the research.
  5. The committee has the following choices:
    1. Pass
      1. Satisfactory
      2. Satisfactory pending revision
    2. Fail
      1. The student may be granted another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional work.
      2. The student may not be granted another opportunity.

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